The Digital Promise

The End of Innocence
Pau Waelder

"You promised me colonies on Mars. Instead, what I get is Facebook".

A disappointed Buzz Aldrin, talking to the reader from the cover of the MIT Technology Review [1] in the late 2012, summarizes with this sentence, the unexpected evolution of technology from the 60s to today. The astronaut from the Apollo XI mission, second person to walk on the Moon and the oldest of the dozen men who have walked on the lunar surface, represents a generation that experienced the power of technology and that dreamed with big challenges, from colonizing the solar system to eradicate world hunger.
The last moon landing took place in 1972, but since then the technology has become apparent in other more mundane areas. Computers are no longer huge machines in a few research centers in the world and are seen today as tools available to an increasingly broad segment of the population.

In the 80s and early 90s, the potential of personal computers and the Internet brought new promises of a better future, more connected and faster, thanks to the technological advances. The technological utopia of the 60s was renewed in the environment of the California counter-culture of the 80s. Computers would liberate people, as promised in the famous Apple ad in 1984 ("1984 will not be like 1984 [the dystopia imagined by George Orwell] "), both in terms of work and through a lysergic opening your mind: personal computers would be "the LSD of the 90s" in the words of Timothy Leary. [3]
This reborn confidence in technology occurs, therefore, to a different level that occurred in the 60s: the big changes do not produce a small number of large, complex machines that make the world a better place, but occur in the individual, in a change of consciousness and access to some tools and resources that were unimaginable a few decades ago.

It is not, therefore, a matter of living on another planet, but to be part of a society marked by the new information technologies, global communication systems and transport at high speed from one point of the planet to another. In this context ArtFutura began its career in 1990, participating in the international festival circuit in which they explore, year after year, the main innovations of the encounter between art, technology and society.

New topics are rapid: Virtual Reality, Cyberculture, Artificial Life, Robotics, and of course the rapid evolution of the Internet requires rethinking constantly the relationship between user and machine, between individual and society. The digital revolution promises to change the world, not through large and strategic steps taken by NASA, but in a turbulent and unpredictable way. The initial reaction is excitement. It invests on impulse in any new enterprise created on the World Wide Web, creating a bubble that explodes even before the turn of the century.

The first big disappointment of the Digital Promise, the bursting of the dotcom bubble in early 2000 does not prevent the technology to run its course quickly and is inexorably introduced in all aspects of daily life. Over the last decade, it has become clear our dependence on digital technologies and the progressive transformation of everything we do, say and produce in a constant flow of data. However, the future is not what was expected in the 60s: we do not move in flying cars (nor in electric cars), we are not served by domestic robots and we shouldn’t fear (for now) an artificial intelligence like HAL9000.
We do not have colonies on Mars, instead we have the NASA Curiosity Rover, joining the fashion of the selfies [4]. From this perspective, one could argue that we have passed from seeking greatness into banality, as denounced by Bruce Gibney in What happened to the Future?, manifesto of the group of technology investors Founders Fund "investment capital has stopped funding the future and has become a source of funding applications, devices and irrelevant junk."[5]

The critics on the promises of the digital age are becoming more numerous, notably among those who have followed its evolution over the past decades. The psychologist Sherry Turkle, who in 1984 considered that "the question is not how the computer will be in the future, but how will we be? What kind of people are we becoming? "[6] concludes that digital devices are shaping us, changing the way we relate to others, so that "we search within the technology ways to build relationships and, at the same time, we seek to protect us from them. "[7]. Jaron Lanier, a pioneer in the development of Virtual Reality, warns in his book Who Owns the Future? [8] that the development of an economy based on free services on the Internet will tend to reduce the employment prospects of the middle class, as the servers of a few companies accumulate more and more data and users become unpaid information providers.

This year, ArtFutura, under the title The Digital Promise,  explores what we expected of technology 25 years ago and what it has contributed to our present as well as what can bring us in the future.

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